I recently read an insightful blog post from Michael Hyatt where he addresses the single biggest objection from his readers on delegation: they often look at a certain task and know they can do it faster themselves than if they delegate it to others. One of the toughest problems leaders have is the difficulty in learning how to delegate. This is the story of one such leader.
It is a unique challenge for a newly-commissioned officer to step from their college campus and assume command of a platoon, knowing that some of the soldiers are older and more experienced. While the soldiers respect the rank, everyone knows that real respect must be earned.
I met an experienced officer who told me the following story. It captures the difficulty and importance of delegation in any setting.
He had graduated with an engineering degree from a university, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army’s engineering branch, and quickly received his orders to lead an engineering platoon. Shortly after arriving, his platoon was deployed in a large war-game exercise. While they were in the field, they had to construct a quick bridge in a river so armored vehicles could cross as part of their maneuvers.
The officer, in an effort to earn respect and demonstrate that he was not afraid of hard work, jumped into the middle of the project, getting muddy and helping establish the footings for the bridge.
In the middle of the construction, a more senior officer came by and called the lieutenant to come join him toward the top of a nearby hill. My friend met the older officer under a tree, where he was pleasantly invited to sit down with the older officer and take a break. Naturally, he did so, although he felt a bit embarrassed to be sitting while his team was working hard in the sun.
As he sat there, the older officer said “look at that bridge you are building, and tell me what you see”. My friend, from this new vantage point, looked at the bridge they had been constructing and for the first time “saw” their project. His engineering knowledge kicked in, and he began to point out to the other officer that the bridge was not located in the best possible place, and the footings were being placed incorrectly. He descended from the hill a smarter leader, and immediately went to work delegating and leading his team to build the bridge correctly.
I think one reason why people struggle with delegation is that they incorrectly equate delegation with being passive. However delegating, properly done, is active. It doesn’t absolve leaders from engagement – it changes the nature of the engagement.
I encourage you to find a nice relaxing place, take a look at whatever bridge you’re building right now, and see what it looks like. If it needs repositioning, involve your team and make them part of the solution.